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On the Universality of Belief in God, and in a Future Slate. 
By the Rev. F. W. Farrar, M.A. 

" Es ist ein seltsamer Irrthum, anzunehmen, class alle Volker an das Dasein eines 
Gottes glauben ; icb babe viele Wilde gesehen, die davon keinen Begriff hat ten." 

De Lauiube. 

Whether or not all nations believed in a God, was a question de- 
bated even by the ancients. On the one hand, Artemidorus* and 
Plutarchf positively assert that there was no race without this belief; 
on the other hand, the Phlegyes, Nasamones, Callaici, Akrothoi,! 
and others, are expressly charged with such ignorance, and Cicero§ 
pointedly affirms his belief in the existence of such people. 

In modern times it has generally been assumed that there is no 
doubt about the matter, and such a consensus of the whole human 
race has even been most needlessly inserted among the certain evi- 
dences of religion. But what are the facts ? If we may believe the 
testimony of travellers,— who are generally prejudiced in the opposite 
direction, and who frequently implant their own belief, which is found 
there by subsequent voyagers — there are not only isolated tribes, but 
whole nations who are so degraded as to live with no knowledge of 
their Creator. 

For instance — 1. Of the Australians, Mr. Schmidt says, " They 
have no idea of a Divine Being," and Mr. Parkes, " That they have 
no words for justice or for sin ;" and Dr. Laing, " They have no idea 
of a superior Divinity, no object of toorship, no idols, nor temples, 
no sacrifices, nothing whatever in the shape of religion to distinguish 
them from the beasts." Similarly Perty,|| in describing the abori- 
gines of Solomon's archipelago, says, " that in many of the islands 
there is no trace of any religion." 2. If we turn to Africa, the 
missionary, J. Leichton, tells us of the Mpongwes, that he found 
among them neither religion nor idolatry ; and another missionary, 
the Rev. G. Brown, tells us of the Kaffirs, " That they have not in 
their language any word to use as the name, or to denote the being, 
of a God — of any God." According to one account, the nearest 
approach to it appears to be the word Tixo, which means " wounded 
knee," and was the name of a celebrated medicine-man a few 
generations back ! The natives of Cape Mount, when questioned by 
Smith about their religion, said, they obeyed their chiefs, and troubled 
themselves about nothing higher. A Bosjesman, when asked the 
difference between good and wicked, said, " It was good to steal 
another person's wife, and wicked when one's own wife was stolen." 
Respecting Fetishism in general, which is the prevalent religion (?) 

* Obfiv ttvos bvBp&wav SStov. Artemitl., i, 9. 

+ 'hviipov ii x6\*m xai iStov . . . oiStis iartv oW tarai yeyovm flewrijs. Plut. 
Adv. Colot. Epicureura, p. 1134. 

} See Fabricius, Bibl. Antiq., p. 229 

§ " Equidem arbitror mu Ua s ess e pentes sic immanitato efleras, ut apud eas 
nulla suspicio Deornm sit." Cic. Do Nat. Deor., i, 23. 

II Grundziige d. Etbn., § 2b2. 


of Africa, Captain Burton* observes, that "it admits neither God, 
nor angel, nor devil; it ignores a resurrection, a soul or a spirit, 
a heaven or a hell." Of the Kaffirs the missionary Scultheissf 
also says, that " they have no religion, never pray, know nothing 
of a higher Being, and believe only in the existing life." 3. Of 
the Malagache, RochonJ says, " The Malagache, like the savage, 
is destitute alike of virtue and vice; he is susceptible of no kind 
of foresight; and he does not conceive that there are men on 
the earth who give themselves uneasiness respecting futurity." 4. Of 
the Esquimaux, Whitebourne,§ — whose testimony is valuable be- 
cause he wrote in 1612, and before they could have learnt of God 
from more frequent intercourse with Europeans — says, " Tliey had no 
knowledge of a God, and lived under no form of civil government." 
And even Sir J. Ross^j observes, " That they have a moral law of 
some extent written in the heart I could not doubt, as numerous 
traits of their conduct show ; but beyond this 1 could satisfy myself of 
nothing." 5. Of the Mincopies or Andamaners,** Dr. Mouat says, 
" They have no conception of a Supreme Being, — no conception of a 
Cause, and are not even polytheists. One of them who was taken 
captive said that his countrymen ' had no kind of worship, not even 
the most gross, being entirely ignorant of the being and nature of a 
God.' " 6. Finally, of the Veddahs of Ceylon, Sir J. Emerson Tennentff 
does not hesitate to say, " They have no religion of any kind, — no 
knowledge of a God or of a future state; no temples, idols, altars, 
prayers, or charms." Mr. Bailey, long a resident among them, con- 
firms this judgment, " They have no knowledge of a Supreme Being ! 
' Is he on a rock ? on a white ant-hill ? on a tree ? I never saw a 
God,' was the only reply I received to repeated questions. They have 
no idols, offer no sacrifices, and pour no libations." 

It is probable that these testimonies might by further search be 
largely multiplied ; but if not, they are alone amply sufficient to set 
the question at rest, and to prevent the repetition of that which is, on 
the best interpretation, very questionable. We need not, therefore, 
weaken them by cases like that of the Diggers, who, because they 
consider the world to have been made by a large capote, and the sun 
by a cunning rabbit, are supposed to believe in a superior Intelligence ! 
A vague fear of the Unknown is found even among animals, and is 
widely different from the belief in a God. At the same time, every- 
one would rejoice if the testimonies here adduced could be impugned 
by trustworthy evidence. 

It is not necessary to say anything about the supposed world- 
extensive belief in a future state. It is absurd to say that such a 
belief can be general among all nations, when it is now all but uni- 
versally admitted that it was a belief at the best but very darkly 

* Personal Advent, in South Africa, p. 12. 

+ Lake Regions of Central Africa ; Schultheiss, in Perty, Grundziige d. Etbn., 
{ Voyage to Madagascar, Pinkerton, xvi, 211. 
§ See Pouchet, De la Plur., eh. v, pp. OO-llo. 
«[ Second Voyage, p. 648. 

** Adventures among the Andamaners, pp. 11, 303. 
++ Ceylon, ii, 141. 


revealed even to the ancient Jews* themselves before the captivity ; 
and that when they did learn it, they continued to assign total annihi- 
lation to those who denied the resurrection and the judgment. The 
Scriptures themselves teach us that it was Christ, and not Moses, 
who " brought life and immortality to light." 

The Peesident said that Mr. Farrar had done great service to 
anthropology in bringing the subject of the asserted universality of 
belief in the existence of a God and a future life before the Society. 
He had stated many facts which deserved to be more noticed than they 
have been ; for the universal belief in the existence of a supreme 
Creator had been generally assumed. This was so much the case that 
at a meeting of the Sydney Philosophical Society much surprise was 
excited when the question was raised whether it was true that the 
aborigines of Australia had no notions of a God. The question was 
examined into, and the assertion of Mr. Laing to that effect was pro- 
nounced to be perfectly correct. In Victoria, indeed, it was found 
that the natives entertained a notion of a good and a bad spirit, but 
Victoria was a small district, and the evidence on the subject obtained 
there afforded no real answer to the assertion of Mr. Laing and others, 
that there is no universality in the belief of a God. As to the assumed 
belief in a future life among all tribes of savages, such a notion was 
quite out of the question if they did not believe in a God. He should 
be glad to hear evidence on the subject from any gentleman present. 
The facts stated in the paper were very important, and he should be 
pleased if any facts could be brought forward on the other side of the 

Mr. Reddie said there could be no doubt it was an unfortunate pro- 
position that had been advanced many years ago, that the existence of 
a God could be proved by the universality of such a belief. There were, 
doubtless, many degraded nations who had no proper idea of a Supreme 
Creator; but it was questionable whether all the assertions which 
travellers had made on this subject were correct; for a great deal of 
what they represented rested on a very slight foundation. There 
could be no doubt that, even in our own country, there was great ignor- 
ance of religion ; and fifteen or twenty years ago a blue book was pub- 
lished, containing the report of the Commissioners on Education, in 
which it appears that they had found among our own people in the 
mining districts persons who were totally ignorant of a God. With 
respect to the assertions of travellers it might be observed, that many 
of them know so little of the language of the savage races they have 
visited, that even if they had a belief in a God they would often not 
know how to express it, or would not be well understood. It was a 
fact, even in our own country, that many men, women, and children, 
often gave very lamentable answers to the questions put to them ; but 
these questions (as appears by the Blue Book referred to) were often 
not very skilfully framed, in language adapted to the common people ; 
and it was very doubtful whether the questions put by travellers, who 
had but an imperfect knowledge of the imperfect languages of savage 

* See Ps. lxxxviii, 10-12 ; Is. xxxviii, !)-20 ; Eel. ix, f>, <>, 10 ; Job xiv, 19-21 ; 
Kcoles. xvii, 27, 28, etc. 


tribes, were calculated to gather the accurate meaning of the people 
they addressed. But it would be a false deduction to think that a 
race of people had always been devoid of the knowledge of a God, 
because some of them had since sunk to that degraded state. Though 
a great portion of the statements quoted by Mr. Farrar might be true, 
yet it was sufficiently apparent from the recent works of travellers — 
and he referred especially to that of Captain Speke — how little they 
often used their eyes or their intellects to discover trustworthy facts 
in their intercourse with the natives ; and he ventured to think that 
much of what travellers had said might be questioned, as merely 
formed upon inadequate and superficial considerations. 

Mr. Louis Fraser said that all the negroes of Africa whom he had 
seen believed in the existence of a good spirit and of a bad spirit. 
They did not attend much to the former, because they thought he 
would do them no harm ; but they were in great dread of the latter, 
and endeavoured to propitiate him. 

Mr. Wallace said that when he was among the wild tribes of the 
Moluccas and of New Guinea, he endeavoured to ascertain what were 
their ideas respecting the Creator of the universe, but he could only 
get from them a confession of total ignorance of the subject. It was 
difficult to distinguish the real opinions of those savages from the opi- 
nions that they had heard. If they were told by any traveller that 
there was an invisible Creator of the universe, so far as they were 
capable of receiving such an idea they would receive it, and repeat it 
afterwards when questioned on the subject ; but so far as he was able 
to ascertain, they had no such idea whatever. They had no desire for 
knowledge, but were contented to go on in their own ways. They 
have, indeed, some vague ideas of the existence of unknown powers ; 
diseases, for instance, were supposed to be unnatural, and to be caused 
by some supernatural agency, but that was very different from the be- 
lief in a God. The intellectual capacities of those tribes were so 
feeble, that he doubted whether they could be made to appreciate or 
understand what was meant by a God. They were unable even to 
comprehend the simplest relations of numbers, such as the adding of 
four and five together, or even less quantities, without putting stones 
before them and showing them the amount visibly. In the same 
manner, their language contained no general terms. They had names 
for particular things, but for no classes of things. They had names 
for particular trees or plants, but they had no names to express the 
meaning of trees or plants in general. 

The Rev. Mr. Kerr expressed great satisfaction at having heard 
the able paper of Mr. Farrar, for he had often considered that it was 
a question which deserved careful thought. His own experience in 
several large parishes in England had taught him that, even in this 
country, there were many persons who had but little notion of a God. 
In Liverpool he had found several instances of persons who were occu- 
pied in certain kinds of employment who had very little idea of a 
Supreme Being. In the eastern parts of London also, he had met with 
several similar instances ; and he had no doubt that a great many, even 
in this Christian country, had no idea of a God. It had been asserted 


by Grotius in his work Religionis Cliristiarue, that the idea of a God 
was general throughout mankind, but his own observations among the 
heathen at home bore out the remarks of the travellers who had been 
quoted by the author of the paper. 

Mr. T. Bendyshe observed that two questions had been mixed 
together in the discussion, which were really quite distinct. It was 
one question whether there are individuals in any community who 
have no knowledge of a God ; and quite another question whether 
there were races of men devoid of such knowledge. That there are 
individuals who are ignorant of the existence of a Supreme Being 
must be apparent to every one who investigated the subject. He con- 
sidered it very doubtful whether the Australians, as a race, had any 
idea of a God. That some individuals among them might have was 
probable, but that would not negative the assertion of the author of 
the paper. It had been said by Mr. Reddie that the opinions formed 
by travellers might be owing to their ignorance of the language of the 
tribes whom they visited. But there were cases to which that objec- 
tion would not apply. There was a well authenticated case of a man 
who was a captive among a savage tribe for thirteen years, who stated 
that they had no notion of a God, and that statement was made with 
a full knowledge of the language and of the sentiments of the tribe. 
It was stated, also, by Captain Speke, that when he asked the king of 
Uganda whether he believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, 
he laughed at the idea of such a thing. The prevalence of some 
superstitions was not sufficient to prove the belief of a God. There 
was a great distinction to be observed between Fetish practices, and 
other superstitions of the kind, and the belief in a Supreme Creator. 
To establish the position of the author of the paper, all that was 
wanted was the proof of one negative instance. Captain Ross was 
among the Esquimaux for several months, and the whole of that time 
he saw no indication of any religious worship. Even among the 
Chinese, there was no word to express the signification of a Supreme 
Being, the word God and heaven being synonymous, — so difficult was 
it for them to conceive the meaning of the word God. Those in- 
stances were, he thought, sufficient to prove Mr. Farrar's general 

The Rev. F. W. Farkar said his object in bringing the subject 
before the Society was to obtain testimony on one side or the other. 
He should have been delighted if the opinion he had stated, on the 
authority of various travellers, had been refuted by other travellers ; 
and that was his main object in bringing the question forward. After 
all, however, the main assertion in his paper was little more than what 
was stated in the Bible — that there were people who knew not God. 
They had, indeed, heard it stated that evening by a London clergy- 
man that even in England there are people living within the sound of 
church bells who do not know anything of God. That was important 
evidence, and after that they should not be surprised that in certain 
parts of the world there are savage tribes who have no belief in a 
God. All races, probably, have a fear of the unknown, but a similar 
feeling exists among animals, as may be proved by many well-authen- 


ticated instances, some of which have been adduced by Prof. Carl Vogt. 
Of course, it was well known that individuals in all nations were un- 
fortunately to be found who had no belief in a God. Even among 
the Greeks, there were some who avowed their disbelief in an invisible 
Creator of the universe. It was a verification of the maxim that ex- 
tremes meet, to observe the strong intellect of cultivated men arrive 
at the same conclusion as the most degraded types of humanity. 
The following paper was next read : 

On Hybridity. By the Rev. F. W. Faerab, M.A. 

We hope in the following paper to adduce some evidence in favour 
of two propositions, viz. : 

i. That it is erroneous to assume that the fertility of hybrids fur- 
nishes a decisive proof of the unity of species ; and 

ii. That it is as yet premature to assert that the union of all 
varieties of the human race produces an offspring continuously fertile. 

i. Of course if we choose to define species in a conventional way, 
and consistently abide by our definition, we may apply the term to all 
varieties which are capable of producing between themselves a fertile 
offspring. But then it is a mere playing with words to assert that the 
intermixture of all human races is " eugenesic", and then to say that 
we have, in any valuable sense, proved the unity of the human species ; 
on the contrary, we have merely been reasoning in a vicious circle, 
and misusing philosophical terms. If, again, we could prove that all 
races of men can produce by intercourse a continuously fertile off- 
spring, we should prove that fact, — and it is an interesting one, — but 
we should prove nothing more. We should still leave absolutely un- 
touched the question of their origin from a single pair. 

The definition of species, which makes it depend on the fecundity 
of cross-breeds, is very open to attack. Fruitful hybrids have been 
produced between animals whose common origin cannot for a moment 
be assumed. The repulsion supposed to exist between different races of 
animals is occasionally* overcome, though not so easily as in the case of 
men. Positive experiment has proved that the wolff and hound, hound 
and fox, camel and dromedary, goat and sheep, goat and steinbock, 
horse and ass, are severally capable of producing fertile offspring. But 
does any one venture seriously to assert that these classes of animals 
must therefore have severally originated from single pairs ? Yet if 
not, it is absurd, on the assumption of similar grounds, to make such 
an assertion in the case of man. Besides, as Vogt justly remarks, 
what we call species is merely an abstraction from individuals ; and, 
similarly, fruitful intercourse, as a character of species, is merely an 
abstraction derived from the observation of a comparatively few indi- 
vidual cases. 

The remarks of AgassizJ on this whole subject are so weighty and 

* Jessen, Ueber die Lebensdaner. Bonn, 1855. 

+ See on the whole subject, Broca, Sur l'Hybridite ; C. Vogt, Kohlerglaube 
»nd Wissenschaft, § 08 ; and Bulletins de la Soc. de l'ADthrop., Apl. 1800, where 
the whole subject is ably discussed by MM. Broca, Boudin, De Quatrefages, etc. 

1 Provinces of the Animal World, Types of Maukind, p. lxxv.